Friday, February 15, 2013

Covering the Bases, Pt. 3: Top 5 baseball books

This post has been months in the making.

I've had the idea rattling around in my head for a while now. Yet, for whatever reason, I'd never had the inspiration or willingness to post about it until now.

In the end, my dad was the one who convinced me to finally put it out into the blogosphere.

Thanks, dad.

Throughout the last few years of my life, I've tried my best to be reading a book at any given time. Soaking in a chapter or two of a good book every night has a wide variety of benefits, as I've recently found.

While I've been fairly lax with my reading regimen lately, I still try to pick up as many books as I can these days.

In recent years, many of the books I've read have kept to two different overall themes, neither of which should be surprising to regular readers of this blog.

Music and baseball.

Though I've always had an adoration for books that deal with music, many of my first reading loves had to do with our National Pastime.

I can't say for certain how many baseball books I've read over the years. 

It's a lot, though. That's all I can tell you.

And I'm sure there's a ton more out there, waiting to be discovered.

However, a few have managed to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

That's what this post will be about.

Tonight, I'll be sharing my "desert island" Top Five favorite baseball books.

It wasn't an easy one to make. That's for sure. In the end, I had to leave out a few great pieces.

Although none of them made the final list, I thought I'd give a few of the "runners-up" a quick mention.

Those "runners-up" include: Cobb, by Al Stump, Mint Condition, by Dave Jamieson, The Bullpen Gospels, by Dirk Hayhurst, Is This a Great Game or What?, by Tim Kurkjian, and The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book by Brendan Boyd and Fred Harris.

That last one was a bit of a surprise. I thought "The Bubble Gum Book" would make the list for sure.

As it stands, though, the number five slot on my list goes to...

#5 -- Eight Men Out, by Eliot Asinof

Since this is a baseball card blog, after all, I've decided to interweave a few appropriately-themed pieces of cardboard in with each of the books I've chosen.

The fact that a real, actual World Series was thrown by professional athletes is simply mind-blowing, especially in today's day in age.

But, despite what people might want to believe, it did actually happen back in 1919 with the now-infamous "Black Sox".

Although a few of the facts in his book are still debated, Eliot Asinof's Eight Men Out is still the most famous chronicle on the famous Series, bar none.

His book covers everything from the 1919 season to the end of the lives of the "Black Sox". If you're at all interested to learn more about the scandal, then this is the perfect book for you.

On top of that, this is one of two books on this list that has been made into a movie. 

The Sandlot aside, Eight Men Out is still my all-time favorite baseball flick. Pacific even created a special set to coincide with the film's release.

I will forever be on the chase for anything featuring the "Eight Men Out".

To me, the story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox is the most captivating in baseball history.

#4 -- The Wrong Stuff, by Bill Lee with Dick Lally

This was my most recent read to make this list.

Until this past summer, I'd somehow never picked up a copy of The Wrong Stuff.

Given that the "Spaceman" was one of the biggest characters baseball has ever seen, I knew I was in for a treat once I finally picked it up.

Everything I ever wanted to know about Bill Lee was included in this book. And more.

While his quirky personality was (and still is) definitely part of his intrigue, you can tell that the "Spaceman" has a genuine love for baseball throughout the course of the book. 

Even at 65 years young, he's still fairly active in the game today.

As for the card choice, I think it speaks for itself.

#3 -- Moneyball, by Michael Lewis

I don't claim to be a "sabermetric guy".

While I do enjoy hearing and learning about all the new and improved stats in the game of baseball these days, I believe that the general "right way" to analyze players lies somewhere in the middle of the old and new ways of thinking.

Even so, Moneyball still rates as one of my personal favorites.

Like The Wrong Stuff, I was a little surprised that it took me so long to dig into this one. My Moneyball experience came way past its heyday. I read through it a few months before the movie was released in 2011.

And while we're on the topic of the movie rendition of Moneyball, I'll just say that it's the best film I've seen in the last five years or so. The scene that chronicled Oakland's record-tying 20th consecutive victory was arguably the best I've ever witnessed.

On top of that, the actual celebration shot made for a pretty awesome baseball card as well.

Before I picked it up, I thought Moneyball would be a fairly dry, bland piece of reading. I love baseball stats, but only in certain quantities.

To my surprise, I found that the book read way more smoothly than I could've ever dreamed. Despite what others may think, though, it manages to go way past the simple statistics.

I don't really have time to get into it right now.

Just read the book if you haven't already.

#2 -- Cardboard Gods, by Josh Wilker

Sure, you could say that this book is about baseball cards.

You could also say that The Catcher in the Rye is about a kid in high school.

Yes, at its base, Cardboard Gods is indeed about baseball cards. Admittedly, that's what first got me interested in reading it.

As a result, my dad gave it to me as a Christmas gift a couple years ago. The book jacket was made up of the same wax material that Topps used back in the day, an innovation which instantly drew me further into its grasp.

As I began to dig deeper and deeper into it, though, I quickly found it to be more than just a book about cardboard.

Way, way more.

Josh Wilker manages to tie his precious collection of '70s and '80s cardboard into many different facets of his life, the good with the bad.

Although I won't spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't read it yet, I will say that the '80 Topps card of "Yaz" is the basis for Wilker's last and final section of his masterpiece.

Again, this is one of those books that I could talk about for hours.

In fact, I came very close to rating it as my all-time favorite baseball book.

In the end, though, that honor went to...

 #1 -- Ball Four, by Jim Bouton

What else?

Again, I was a bit late to the party on this one.

I didn't take the time to read it until my senior year of high school.

Better late than never, I guess.

I've long had a fascination with the short-lived Seattle Pilots franchise. Much of this book has to do with Bouton's stint as a Pilot.

Coupled with that, I've always been a huge fan of knuckleballers. Ball Four also chronicles Bouton's quest to conquer his "washed-up" label with a newly-developed knuckleball.

But forget both of those things.

I may love the Pilots and knuckleballers, but what makes this book so epic is the writing.

Although Ball Four is a fairly long read, I found myself flipping through it with ease. I consider myself to be a fairly slow reader, but I finished it within a week.

Sure, there may be a wide variety of juicy little "nuggets" within his writings, but just the overall experience of what it meant to be a baseball player in the 1960's was what really put it over the top in my mind.

Baseball or not, I doubt we'll ever see anything quite like it again.

Besides, without Ball Four, none of the other books on this list would've been possible.


arpsmith said...

Some pretty good choices, I have read quite a few books in my day (all by the Lee book in your top 5). One of these days I need to go through my collection and make a top something list.

I wrote a short review of a book about Bill Veeck that came out recently - I bet you would enjoy it. Tons of baseball back to the early days pre-intergration through the early 80s. It was a good read you should pick it up.

P-town Tom said...

My #1 on is "The Bullpen Gospels" by Dirk Hayhurst. Hayhurst just released his second book, "Out of My League", which I got for my birthday. I haven't touched it, but I can't wait!

gcrl said...

Smoke 'em inside!

Mark Kaz said...

I, too, received Carboard Gods as a Christmas gift a few years back. A tremendous read!

Anonymous said...

I've had "Cardboard Gods" on my list for a while now. This is pushing me towards the edge of making the purchase.

May I recommend three, in case you've not yet gotten to them?

"Mint Condition."
"The Thinking Fans Guide to Baseball"
"Notes of a Baseball Dreamer"

The latter is probably my favorite as there is much life-nostalgia, but also a believable narrative (memoir, really) about growing up with baseball aiding in the way we move through our lives.

Mark Hoyle said...

It's an older book but "Glory of Their Times" was. Book I read as a kid. Great history lesson. Their is also a auto biography on Ed Delehanty great insight into the early years of baseball

Jeff Allison said...

Great picks! I really like the Wilker book and the Bill Lee book. "Glory of their Times" is excellent also. "Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book" By Brendan C. Boyd and Fred Harris will also be #1 to me. I see you mentioned it. It was the first baseball card book available to 10 year old kids like me in 1973, before price guides. Got me into serious card collecting. Very funny. I also liked "Seasons in Hell" about the early 70's pathetic Texas Rangers and "The Bronx Zoo"(TV series wasnt that good). Enjoying "The Kid" about Ted Williams right now.